Italian horror is a strange beast. Were I really pressed on the point, I’m not sure I could name a single Italian horror picture apart from Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man (1994) that I’d call good in any normal sense of the word — and even it isn’t the last word in logic or coherence. It is, however, true to its own logic in ways that most Italian horror isn’t, but then most Italian horror simply ignores logic. (Its defenders like to call this “dream logic,” which is critic-speak for “makes absolutely no sense.”) That’s not to say that a great deal of Italian horror isn’t enjoyable on its own level. It can be stylish and visually striking — and it can also be atmospheric and creepy. On rare occasions — and I’d argue that Soavi’s The Sect (1991) is one of them — the atmosphere becomes even more unsettling because of the film’s lack of coherence. In terms of the actual architecture in the film — also true of his 1989 film The Church and Soavi’s mentor Dario Argento at his best — there is something that might qualify of “dream logic,” or, more correctly, “dream illogic.” None of this, however, keeps the film from being so supremely screwed up that it doesn’t frequently topple over into the unintentionally funny — but that, too, is part of the appeal.
At bottom, The Sect is a kind of acid trip version of Rosemary’s Baby (1969). I mean, for whatever reason, Roman Polanski never thought of adding a possessed TV watching rabbit (that can operate the remote control), an ill-intentioned handkerchief with Shroud of Turin properties, some kind of parasitic creature introduced into the heroine’s body, a hokey enraged stork, bikers, a seemingly endless cellar with a weird well that introduces some blue substance into the water supply, and … well, all sorts of things on about that same level of outright peculiarness. Indeed, whatever else The Sect is, it is admittedly a lot more lively than Rosemary’s Baby. I’m not saying that makes it better, but it is a good deal more amusing. That that may not have been the intention is another concern altogether — and one that has absolutely no bearing on its entertainment value.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Sect Thursday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.